Next week, I’m thrilled to be attending the Immersed Conference in Portland, Oregon. The conference is a two day event focused on immersive technologies like VR and AR and how they are impacting the world around us.
I’ll be moderating a panel discussion on empathy, empowerment and embodiment in VR featuring my colleagues and friends Donna Davis, Tawny Schlieski and Jerri Lynn Hogg. You can learn more about all the conference sessions, buy tickets and join the community on the Design Reality website.
Stephanie Mendoza, an immersive media artist and enthusiast will also be participating in the conference. She will be teaching a workshop on WebVR and PIMG will be demoing on the exhibition floor along with other Portland VR/AR startups. She was kind enough to answer a few questions on her experience with VR, Portland and becoming a dragon!
1) How long have you been in Portland? Why did you decided to stay here?
I’m coming up on 4 years now, I arrived in May 2015 to take some front end web development courses over the month. Then I got a job in Seattle- didn’t like Seattle very much so I went to Canada for a month and a half to visit old friends. I’d also made enough money selling drawings at an art auction to visit Portland again before going home (also my car was there). The intention was not to stay, but to spend two weeks with the friends I’d made and then move back to Texas.. well my student loans kicked in and automatically took money I didn’t have, leaving me with a balance of
(-$600) and no gasoline to get back. I would have been homeless, had I not been taken under the wing of a Cyborg Anthropologist I got nerdy with at a Hackerspace in NE called CtrlH. That really started it all.
2) Describe the creative and emerging tech scene in Portland? Could it be recreated elsewhere?
Portland is pretty special, though I’m not sure if I’ve traveled enough to know exactly how unique it is. The city is easy to navigate, creative and there are many programs that support practicing artists. I can meet people from almost every socioeconomic/cultural background, and not be restricted by notions of cultural bias, so long as a common interest is pursued. This place is incredibly community oriented, it seems that each group has about one or two degrees of separation between its members, that tend to just get together en mass, and hack at whatever they are doing.
3) What latest tech trends excite you the most?
GDPR. I’ve been an advocate for data protection since I was in 8th grade and social media was taking off. Specifically, what gets me excited is GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) in Europe which comes into effect on May 25th- most importantly, it states that 1) Right of Access: Users have full access to all of the data a company has on them as well as how it is being processed, and 2) Right to Erasure: Users have a right to have that data removed. Failure to comply could lead to sanctions as high as 4% of annual worldwide turnover, so it’s not toothless.
Additionally, people are finally listening to me about dumping Facebook, and caring about how companies treat their user’s data. I strongly believe that this is the most important trend to evangelize in our modern tech climate.
4) How did you get involved with social VR? Which social VR platforms do you hang out in and why?
I started in Anyland, a social VR sandbox where anyone could make anything with unlimited resources (well, until their GPU choked on the particle effects). Anyland was and is still an incredibly powerful tool for rapid prototyping of ideas that just can’t exist yet in tangible space, but who’s presence we can prepare for in a simulation.
I’m in VR Chat a lot now too. I got sucked in to watching a bunch of Ugandan Knuckles videos over my VR deprived trip to visit family in Mexico, and spent months making highly detailed avatars (also converting my Anyland one). I still think I prefer the open and immersed creativity of Anyland, but I’ve been spending much of this year exploring VR Chat.
5) What do you see as the BIGGEST potential for VR, AR and immersive technology?
VR is an incredible tool for exposure therapy and it shields us from own own biases about identity when avatars come in to play, exposing something deeper. One of the first things that happened when I started developing for VR in Unity was loosing my fear of heights, which was pretty bad at the time and hasn’t returned since. I did the same for my stage fright, where I simulated the old New Relic office and practiced in there with my slides in front of a fake audience of zombies, tigers, and men in blue suits. This all gets amplified when it involves social learning and observation.
6) Do you feel large corporations such as Intel and Nike have played a role in the technology innovations happening in Portland? What role should corporations play in promoting innovation?
Bike town provides a good model of accessible equipment. Also Intel sponsors a lot of events like hackathons and small conferences/meetups (that feed us starving tech artists, many of whom us won’t admit to barely having enough to feed ourselves), so keep doing that!
7) Do you feel immersive communities and social VR can help empower and heal people or do you feel they will have more of a negative impact?
Both. Back in Anyland the crowd was mostly west coast, with a good amount of midwestern conservatives, and a few Europeans and Asians sprinkled into the mix. It was a small but tightly knit community. We actually managed to build bridges between the two wings of American ideologies (liberal redditors, and 4chan trump trolls) using the unlimited creativity Anyland provided us. We could coexist extremely well in a simulated utopia, void of any ‘economy’ other than a gifting one based on creative capitol. It sounds unrealistic, but also not impossible. I think this kind of thing can work wonders helping people get out of the mindset that everyone has to have a job, in a rapidly approaching post-work world.
That being said social VR can be a serious trigger for those with preexisting conditions who have PTSD from combat or assault. People in these spaces can be ruthless, but there are definitely ways to deal with them as an individual without getting the mods or the company involved. Trolling in real-time is a double edged sword and often the worst offenders are terrible at comebacks, which in my experience changes the game. Most of the other users will also have your back, you just have to have some thick skin, which comes with experience. It can be harrowing for a first timer.
8) How has spending time in social VR communities impacted you pesonally?
I have finally realized that yes, I can grow up to become a dragon; nine year old me is very pleased. I feel like anything is possible now, and I can test new inventions people come up with, before they manifest in ‘reality’. I wind up having these extreme experiences that can only be described as if they were a dream, since often it involves shapeshifting, and strange worlds/contraptions that exist as pure imagination manifested by data. Also shapeshifting was always my go-to superpower so thats a huge incentive drawing me back to the territory.
9) Currently VR is really only accesible by a small number of users – when do you think VR will hit mass adoption and why?
Probably once the next generation of headsets comes out, just like any other console or ‘gaming’ hardware. Go to goodwill and you can see the stacks of unwanted Wii’s and Xboxes, and on the shelf below them, every variety of mobile VR headsets.
10) Which local start ups or local innovators do you feel have the most potential? Why?
So I can’t answer this question in the context of financial potential, because the places I see the most creativity come out of, and have the greatest community impact, are also the places that earn the least and are burdened the most- especially during this current administration which has dramatically cut funding for the arts nationally. Take Open Signal and Enthusiasm Collective- they provide a vital service to the Art and Tech community, and without places like that many VR devs/artists would not have had opportunities to get started.
I have high hopes for our local hackerspaces as well, I want to give a shout out to CtrlH for the amazing things they’ve done, providing equipment for local creators, and bringing together a variety of interesting meetups- Dorkbot (robotics) and Exploit(information security) come to mind, and they have even supported Portland Immersive Media Group(VR) when we needed a venue.
11) How did you get involved with the Design Reality community? What will your upcoming presentation at the Immersed Conference cover? Who do you feel should attend this conference and why?
Luck. I met Joshua at Kent Bye’s house when Kent had a pre-release of Google Earth VR. A few weeks later I got an email about the new VR meet up, noticed that he was charging for tickets, and promptly wrote a concerned letter. I knew that charging ANY amount would immediately discourage most of the artists that I knew were currently participating in VR from attending, since even a small $5 fee is detrimental as costs add up when you include parking/MAX fares, and that resulting $10-15 is a grocery budget for the week. Yes we are that economically challenged. I worried that this would result in further homogenization of the group, creating the beginnings of an elitist VR scene in Portland. Fortunately that didn’t happen, and Joshua completely understood what I was talking about. He is still charging for tickets, but there are both volunteer and scholarship opportunities for those of us who wouldn’t be able to participate otherwise.
I feel like this conference is for anyone who wants to get the full scope of what Portland VR has to offer. I will be teaching a workshop on WebVR and PIMG will be demoing on the exhibition floor along with other Portland VR/AR startups.
Connection is difficult. With more distractions, demands on our time, and mediated communications like texting and social media, making time for intimacy and love can be challenging. Holidays such as Valentine’s Day can serve to reinforce this realization, further isolating singles and those who choose alternative lifestyles. There are some who feel technology is an obstacle to intimacy and love, but other experts believe virtual reality can actually help foster connecting in new and exciting ways.
“Absolutely. Virtual reality can help bring us closer together and foster love and intimacy,” said Dr. Holly Richmond, a Ph.D Sex Therapist and author of the soon to be published Next Sex: Mating, relating and masturbating in the new age of technology. Richmond sees VR and other emerging technologies as having immense potential to help break down the barriers to love and intimacy in the digital age.
According to Richmond there are several applications where VR can play a role in healthier relationships and closer connections. VR therapies are already being used successfully to treat disorders such as PTSD and common phobias, Richmond believes this treatment can extend to sexual health issues such as erectile dysfunction, low libido and performance anxiety. “VR therapy can help common disorders — pain disorders, low libido, and erectile dysfunction. By helping people understand arousal and taking the pathology out of ‘not doing it right,’ VR can provide positive solutions in a safe and comfortable environment.” Richmond is currently exploring using immersive VR environments to help treat these common issues among her patients.
She also believes there would be huge value in using VR to help teach anatomy and human sexuality in schools. Using a 3D model to explore female and male anatomy would enable students to better understand their own bodies and the bodies of potential partners. Immersive VR educational videos would also act as great tool to help explore human sexuality in a safe and nurturing environment.
Beyond therapy and education, Richmond also believes VR has the power to help normalize sexual expression and empower users to better understand and meet their own needs. In her practice, she outlines three elements that are vital for healthy, intimate connections. These “Three E’s” are Empathy, Empowerment, and Embodiment. VR’s immersive elements, such as having a first-person point of view (POV), enable the user to experience and feel these elements instead of just talking about them.
Above: Dr. Holly Richmond is currently working on using VR to help treat her patients
Image Credit: Katarina Kojic
“VR is great place to learn and practice. It gives users an experiential component. Better than just watching, we can feel our way into things. It also gives us choice — choosing your POV, for example — gives us more control and can be very empowering. VR also allows for a mind and body connection. We can actually feel it — it’s an integrated experience. Used in education, learning outcomes are dramatically improved when someone can experience something instead of just watching.”
The love-tech landscape
Above: Holly Richmond on the set of Badoink’s “Virtual Sexology” series.
Individuals and couples can now use a few immersive tools to help enhance intimacy. VR films, primarily focused in the adult entertainment sector, are beginning to take more of an educational approach. For example, Badoink’s “Virtual Sexology” series, which Richmond co-authors, is positioned as a sex therapy program. It primarily consists of 360 degree videos shot from the first-person perspective. The viewer can choose man or woman’s POV, and the scene immerses them as a participant. The voice-over includes tactics like sensate focus and applied behavior applications such as positive reinforcement. While this type of immersion may be a step above traditional 2D video, it still doesn’t enable the viewer to feel what’s happening on film.
Enter Kiiroo, a growing tech company based in Amsterdam. It’s developing a solution to this problem.
Kiiroo is the leading producer of remote-controlled smart teledildonics for couples. Since 2013, this company has used technology to help couples feel more connected and intimate when they’re not together — especially when they are hundreds if miles apart. Through the use of the Kiiroo app and the devices, both male and female, couples can have an interactive experience, controlling each other’s pleasure, despite being a continent away. Couples can see each other in real-time via a 2D webcam or other similar device (like a smartphone), but according to Kiiroo’s Maurice Op de Beek, couples can now use a 360 degree camera and enjoy the VR version. “VR is so real and immersive, but historically, you couldn’t feel it. You needed touch. We have created the illusion of touch and are solving this problem.”
Above: Kiroo’s Fleshlight Launch and Onyx 2
Op de Beek is extremely optimistic about the potential of creating more and more realistic experiences with the help of VR. When asked if we would see hyper-real sexual experiences in our lifetime, his immediate response was “Definitely! We already have this with our Launch device. It’s very real and the developments are going so fast we are about 10-20 year out from hyper-real simulated sexual experiences.” Kiiroo’s most immersive product, the Fleshlight Launch, enables male stimulation synchronized with a VR film experience. The device exactly mimics the actions onscreen, reeling the viewer into the action and providing for a new level of embodiment. The market has about 1,500 VR-enabled films that are synced to devices, with more in production.
Above: Kiiroo Chief Technology Officer Maurice Op de Beek, believes we will experience hyper-real immersive encounters in our lifetime.
Kiiroo is also enabling devices for women to sync with VR films, partnering with We-Vibe and OhMiBod. Op de Beek has approached many of the leading device manufacturers and proposed adding Kiiroo’s smart technology to their products. Eventually there will be hundreds of thousands of these smart devices all over the globe, allowing for couples and singles to remotely connect like never before.
Richmond feels leveraging the immersion of VR can be a valuable tool for these devices: “The newest VR-enabled, remote control devices are some of the best that I’ve seen. They force couples to communicate, taking some of the guess work out of meeting each other’s needs. It has facilitated conversations about what people like and what they don’t like. Sex tech can help women be empowered and connect with their own bodies and then share this with a partner.”
Given the reality of achieving hyper-real sexual experiences in our lifetime, some fear that these experiences will be addicting and act as a replacement for real, human interactions. Headlines such as this one from a recent ABC post, “Virtual reality addiction threat prompts cautious approach as VR nears ‘smartphone-like’ take-off,” work to propagate these concerns. Richmond doesn’t believe VR will increase addiction and argues that technology is only working to enhance human connection, not replace it.
“The idea of addiction — I just don’t buy it. There’s no such thing as sex or Internet addiction. There will always be people who abuse technology. The VR component won’t make it that much more addictive. From print magazines like Playboy, to online adult entertainment, and now VR and teledildonics — the technology will keep progressing. We, as human beings, need to learn how to keep up with it.”
The future is bright
Both Op de Beek and Richmond are extremely optimistic about what the future holds for VR and making a love connection. As technology improves, so will the ways we leverage this technology to learn more about ourselves and our partners. VR is creating new communication channels, new ways to feel and empathize with one another and ultimately allow for a full range of intimate self-expression. Richmond sums it up: “My mission in life is to stop the pathologization of any kind of sexual expression that isn’t within the ‘normal’ box. And thankfully, that box is opening — we’ve got pansexual, demi-sexual, bisexual, and now digisexual.
“We’ve still got this inherent desire, especially in the US, to pathologize difference. Immersive technology, like VR, can enable us to embrace, even celebrate, these differences, and allow us to safely explore and experience ourselves in new ways. This is what I see as the biggest potential for VR.”
Above: SimVis’ 3D VR modeling of the human head and neck.
Surrounded by darkness, the looming 20 foot skull is so close I can touch it. With the click of a mouse, the 3D model of the human head and neck pivots and I’m inside the eye socket examining this complex system from the inside out. It’s A viewpoint typically reserved for surgeons on the operating table; I’m amazed by the scale and detail of the mechanism that gives us the miracle of sight.
Above: Creative and medical teams examine the 3D Neck and Head project in SimVis’s ‘Lab 01’ immersive media space.
The finished product of three years of work and almost 1 million pounds, the 3D Head and Neck anatomy project has revolutionized the way we study anatomy. Glasgow School of Art’s School of Simulation and Visualization’s virtual reality model has been so well received by the medical community that the school was awarded funding to complete male and female versions of the entire human body. These complete anatomical models, dubbed the ‘3D Definitive Human’ project, will be launched in early 2018.
Best thing since Gray’s Anatomy?
The 3D VR model of the head and neck has been rapidly adopted by universities and training programs across the U.K. with thousands of interactions annually. According to Dr. Malcolm Skingle, CBE DSc PhD, Director and Academic Liaison for GlaxoSmithKline, “I think that the 3D Definitive Human has the potential to be the best thing available since Gray’s Anatomy to train the next cadre of medics and biological scientists.”
The School of Simulation and Visualization, or SimVis, partnered with leading hospitals and universities in order to complete the most accurate and detailed model of the head and neck ever constructed. The ultra-high resolution 3D virtual model is fully interactive and can be consumed across a variety of environments and platforms. Students can interact with the model in a group setting, similar to an IMAX theater, or study the model solo on their tablet, laptop or mobile device. The 3D model includes accurate interactive visualizations of all the anatomical systems including the musculo-skeletal system, circulatory system, nervous system and digestive system.
The model also includes haptic capabilities providing feedback through hand controllers that can simulate routine procedures, such as giving an injection. In the past, medical students would practice giving an injection on crude, plastic dummies or on each other. Today, students can perfect this skill safely and expertly without ever touching a patient.
Above: The 3D Neck and Head project include haptics or touch technology that simulates administering an anesthetic injection to a patient
Blending of art and science
In order to create the medically verified model, the SimVis team worked alongside a clinical verification team of surgeons and anatomy professors including Professor Anna Lysakowski, a board director of the American Association of Anatomists.
Above: SimVis 3D modeller works to create texture maps for an anatomical model
The creation process brought together computer scientists, 3D modellers, artists, doctors, anatomists, researchers and professors.. This blending of the creative arts and sciences is what sets SimVis apart and allowed for such stunning results.
The workflow begins with actual dissections of human cadavers that are then photographed using advanced photogrammetry. This technique includes taking thousands of high-resolution photos from multiple angles and stitching them together to help form the precise 3D model. Modelling software, such as 3ds Max or Maya, is then used to construct the shape of the model virtually and overlay the exact look and feel through a process known as “texture mapping.”
Once this has been completed, the user interface is constructed and the content is formatted for various platforms with the help of the gaming engine, Unity. Rigorous tests are then conducted in order to validate the model’s accuracy.
Above: SimVis designer shows how real cadavers are photographed at various points and then stitched into the shape underlying the 3D virtual model
The road ahead
Capitalizing on the momentum of head and neck projects success, SimVis is preparing to launch the completed “3D Definitive Human” project early next year. This second-stage project is the culmination of a three year partnership between SimVis, the Scottish Funding Council, NHS Education for Scotland, The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, the Fulbright Commission, and selected colleges and universities in the region. The end result is a highly accurate, 3D model of the entire male and female human body.
Above: SimVis Director, Paul Chapman, on stage sharing a preview of The Definitive Human project launching in early 2018
Based upon the positive results and improved learning outcomes from the head and neck project, the implications for the “3D Definitive Human” project are limitless. According to SimVis director Paul Chapman, “Our models will now be augmented with pathophysiology, for example skin cancer, which could result in better diagnosis, improved training and education for medical professionals and will ultimately lead to much better healthcare for patients.”
SimVis is not alone in seeing the potential that immersive technology, such as virtual reality, has in shaping the future of health care. A US based start-up, Surgical Theater, uses virtual reality to create a model of the patient’s anatomy to help both doctors and patients better understand complex procedures. Microsoft has also been exploring medical case uses for their augmented reality headset the Hololens. One pilot project, dubbed “Project Serra,” experimented with using the Hololens to project MRI data, real-time on a patient being prepped for surgery. This would then allow for more precise targeting of tumors within the body.
VR projects like the “3D Definitive Human” are a great stride forward but we’re still in the nascent stages of truly leveraging the power of immersive technologies to help improve health care. Combining highly accurate, VR models with actual patient data, the emerging capabilities of AR and AI, and new concepts such as “digital twins” will result in life altering outcomes. Chapman sums it up best, “We can only begin to imagine what comes next.”
Last week I was fortunate enough to be part of VR World in London. I was extremely impressed with the brands and businesses that attended and the continuing advancements in the commercial VR sector. Businesses are harnessing the power of new technologies such as VR and AR to do everything from providing better care for patients, developing safer working environments for employees and creating mind-blowing art and entertainment experiences.
One hot topic that was on everyone’s mind is – WHERE IS THIS GOING? What is the future of commercial VR/AR/MR and how will it impact our daily lives. Those that attended the conference can’t deny the HUGE implications these technologies pose to businesses and ultimately consumers. Below I have collected some of the most intriguing predictions from technology visionaries from around the globe. Let the countdown begin:
10) Commercial VR/AR/MR will permeate EVERY aspect of our lives within the next 10 years.
This couldn’t have been more evident as the breadth of commercial VR companies at the event represented a wide array of industries. Retail, healthcare, automotive, architecture, city planning and many more were represented. There is a rapidly growing community of savvy developers looking at these new technologies and how they can help enterprises and businesses improve their offerings. Two major obstacles for commercial advancement in these technologies – high costs and poor content quality – no longer pose a challenge and businesses of all sizes are eager to benefit from these new technologies. Intel is working to provide professionals the compute power required to create robust commercial Virtual, Augmented and Merged reality experiences, learn more by visiting intel.com/workstations.
9) The ‘killer app’ that will push VR into the mainstream will center on education – both consumer education and professional training.
The use of VR for training purposes is nothing new, as military training simulations have relied on it for decades. More recently, other sectors such as healthcare and education have realized the potential in using virtual reality and augmented reality to teach in new ways. Pearson is piloting a program in partnership with Microsoft’s HoloLens to help improve nursing programs in the US and universities around the world are incorporating AR and VR into their curriculum.
Paul Chapman, Director of the School of Simulation and Visualisation (SimVis) at Glasgow School of Art, has devoted an entire MA program track to medical VR applications. His team is working on one of the most accurate 3D models of the human body ever created, allowing for complex anatomical structures to be studied in new ways. According to Chapman, “over the next 10 years VR and AR will see significant improvements in display resolution, field of view, interaction technologies and device ergonomics. VR and AR will become standard issue in classrooms and, due to the improved quality of the devices, we’ll be feeling less nauseous and able to use them for extended periods. Their use will become as common and accepted as the use of smart phones today.”
8) Social VR or AR platforms that are built to help users interact and communicate with each other in new ways will be the driving force behind mainstream adoption.
It’s no secret that Facebook is investing heavily in social VR and the platform just launched ‘Facebook Spaces’ – a virtual space to spend time remotely with distant friends. Given Facebook’s global reach, their support of using VR technology to connect with friends could help bring such activities to the masses. There are also several other companies banking on the power of social VR, such as High Fidelity and AltspaceVR.
7) VR and AR for commercial purposes like shopping, workplace collaboration, navigation, transportation and healthcare will make the technology so commonplace that 3D entertainment will be forced to innovate.
Currently VR technology is so new that businesses can rely on that factor alone to help create engaging and entertaining experiences. The potential for dramatically improving film and theater viewing experiences with the help of VR is just taking shape and will continue to develop over the next decade. However, as VR and AR become more commonplace commercially, directors and content developers will need to work harder to continue to immerse their audience. The novelty of these technologies will wear off and content will need to rely more on the substance and story instead of the method of delivery.
Vicon, a company dedicated to 3D motion capture, is providing the technology to shape the future of 3D entertainment. Their applications helped produce an updated, VR inspired version of The Tempest, giving the public a glimpse of the immersive entertainment experiences of the future.
6) Virtual or holographic home goods, apparel and footwear using AR and VR in-home, will become the primary means by which consumers purchase and customize their products.
One of the most inspiring sessions of the entire conference was presented by H&M’s Innovation Evangelist, Peter Hagström. He showed impressive video footage of how H&M have leveraged the power of VR to optimize the design process, even allowing designers to ‘feel’ the weight and drape of virtual fabrics. When asked if eventually these design innovations would make its way into the hands of consumers, Hagström indicated they were moving in that direction and exploring those options, however he warned that the hardware needs to evolve for fashion consumers to embrace the new technology, “as we in HM IT Labs look at the future around VR / AR, we see that it will develop and help customers in the omni channel experience. We also see that this will help the fashion industry to become both more sustainable and more productive in the development and design phase. Right now we see a challenge in the IT industry that the Hardware is not there yet, it doesn’t fit the fashion world.”
5) Commuting to work will be a thing of the past, as your virtual workplace will be ‘commuting’ to you.
With the help of VR and AR, it will no longer become necessary to be in a physical location to get work done. Advanced collaboration tools have already made it possible for engineers and designers to work remotely on 3D models and as the advancements continue, more and more companies will go ‘virtual’.
4) Virtual social networks will enable hyper-realistic and safe dating environments making face-to-face ‘blind dates’ a thing of the past.
Online dating has become a billion dollar business and more and more couples are meeting via online apps. With improvements in resolution quality and the ability to eventually project a lifelike representation of yourself into any environment, the potential to from fully digital relationships increases. Creative Director and Digital Media specialist, Dirk Singer, attended VR World and sees the potential in this new form of dating, “It’s an area that’s ripe for exploitation by major players such as match.com. Hold a virtual date before you meet for a real date. Create an avatar in an online world or platform and spend an evening or afternoon with that person before deciding to meet in real life. It takes the pressure out of that first date and gives both parties a chance to get to know each other in a kind of instant message and face to face meeting half way house.”
3) The integration of drone technology, VR, AR and AI will allow for the creation and operation of fully autonomous factories in previously uninhabitable locations.
Companies are already using drone technology coupled with VR modeling to improve and streamline the construction of complex structures. Clicks and Links is working within the UK to help build a process to repair structural damage to sites difficult to access, such as underground tunnels. They utilize drone technology to take a 3D image of the space and then create a VR model that can be used to plan and practice repairs. It’s not that hard to imagine eventually building entire structures remotely that could house fully automated systems.
2) AI coupled with merged reality will produce housing cost efficiencies and improved city planning thereby ending homelessness.
Advancements get REALLY exciting when you begin to blend the power of AR and VR with artificial intelligence. Programs that can actually learn to see patterns well beyond what humans can achieve are allowing for unbelievable advances in data analytics. Innovative companies are working to try and incorporate this ‘thinking’ into smarter cities, factories, transportation systems, city planning and many other case uses.
One such company, Spantium, has developed a robust platform to create precise, 3D models of buildings and skyscrapers that haven’t even been built yet. Their team of developers use drone technology to recreate the exact views from each of the floors of the new buildings. The interactive platform can also be used to help design the building’s interior spaces and plan how to best optimize for efficient use of space.
With the help of AI, these types of VR modeling tools could become infinitely more powerful, eventually mapping, analyzing and optimizing entire populations.
1) Predictive computer programs coupled with VR and AR will allow users to play out future interactions and scenarios, thereby ‘predicting’, visualizing and even optimizing their own future with some degree of accuracy.
Not as crazy as it sounds, there could be a time in the not too distant future where we could explore several options or decision points and have a high degree of certainty of the precise outcome. This could impact everything from financial and investment decisions to professional considerations like job offers and even personal decisions like who to befriend or marry. A sort of ‘crystal ball’ that would be available to help us make more informed decisions and could even show us a visualization of each possible outcome. WOW!
As exciting as these predictions are, there is also the need to exercise extreme responsibility and to carefully consider the consequences of these types of innovations. We’re still in the nascent stages of these immersive technologies and nobody can truly predict what lies ahead. I’m extremely hopeful however that the benefits will be experienced by all of us in the not too distant future. To learn more about how Intel is helping to pioneer these new technologies and provide professionals the tools to enable amazing VR experiences, visit intel.com/VR.
I’ve been interested in the business uses of immersive technologies for over a decade. I’m NOT embarrassed to admit that I ran a global publication, ‘SLentrepreneur’, dedicated to the virtual world of Second Life. The digital magazine focused on the real-world, business uses of Second Life and explored how companies like IBM, KLM and dozens of universities and training facilities were using the platform to help cut costs, improve services and create experiences that were once thought impossible. In many ways, Second Life, was ahead of its time and eventually many businesses decided the new technology was too unwieldy and risky for future investment.
A decade has passed and I’m excited to see the business case uses of cutting-edge technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality surging into the mainstream. While the benefits to the enterprise, such as cost efficiencies, may now be obvious, my real excitement lies within commercial applications that have not yet even been imagined. When I first experienced virtual collaboration with my remote team from around the globe and witnessed ‘in-world’ broadcasts over ten years ago, I KNEW that someday the business implications would be profound. That day has arrived.
Why Commercial VR? Why Now?
One of the biggest obstacles to mainstream adoption of VR has been around the costs of the hardware and a shortage of high-quality content. The average consumer had no compelling reason to invest thousands of dollars it required to experience the technology at home. VR and AR for businesses however, DID have a very compelling reason to invest the funds required to develop applications that could do everything from cut costs to help save patient’s lives.
As hardware costs have come down and the technology has become faster and lighter, businesses of all sizes have been able to embrace the benefits of VR and AR. It’s not just the largest architectural firms that can now use VR to help design buildings, there are now software vendors that provide this service at a fraction of the cost. Businesses can now purchase workstations equipped to handle professional VR workloads for a fraction of the cost. According to Debra Goss-Seeger, Intel’s product marketing engineer for VR workstations, “designed for professionals – workstations powered by Intel® Xeon® processors are the foundation for pervasive performance, agility, and security to manage the most mission critical professional workloads in a secure environment, with fewer interruptions. Intel® Xeon® processors are specifically designed to handle professional workloads and ensure your hardware is future-proofed to handle the newest VR software applications.”
According to recent research by SuperData, the VR software market is poised to grow from just under $5B to over $25B by 2020 with the bulk of that growth occurring in non-gaming applications such as interactive media, wellness, tourism and social networking. This growth will fuel a surge in high-quality, VR content that will help expedite mainstream adoption.
Another major obstacle limiting the growth of both business and consumer VR markets is the means of delivery. There are currently several head mounted displays on the market of varying quality, including the least expensive option – mobile VR. The fragmented landscape of distributing VR content and the relatively low numbers of consumers who have access to devices has been an insurmountable obstacle for many content creators. However, the data predicts that VR is about to reach mass adoption in the same way color TV’s and computers were adopted years before.
These factors coupled with continued VR and AR technology investments from companies like Google, Facebook and Intel means that we are very likely on the brink of a HUGE shift in the way technology impacts our daily lives. You can learn more about Intel’s investment in VR technologies in my recent article, ‘VR’s Breakthrough Moment: What will it take?’. Many industry experts are banking on commercial VR eclipsing gaming VR in the years to come. Events such as the upcoming VR World event in London are bringing these experts together to explore future commercial case uses of VR and AR. I’m excited to be attending this year’s VR World conference and look forward to learning more about this exciting frontier. Feel free to follow @IntelITCenterand @LisaPeyton on Twitter to get real-time conference updates.
Several of the event speakers along with other commercial VR luminaries were willing to answer a few key questions and make some exciting predictions about the future. You can read quotes from the experts below. If you are planning on attending VR World, please reach out and send me a tweet. I’d love to connect.
“My personal view is that healthcare is the most exciting application of commercial VR. Furthering the treatment of people who have been in traumatic situations, whether mentally or physically, and using VR to rehabilitate or trick the brain into activating dormant neurons is beyond sci-fi. It amazes me how some really smart people have thought outside the box and extended VR into areas never considered when the products were first conceived.”
Gaming vs. Commercial
“In 10 years AR will make evolutionary strides. AR lenses will provide a gateway to information and interaction that layers into our reality. Things like Pokémon Go or Google Glass provide a very narrow glimpse of that potential, but a glimpse nonetheless. In a decade Big Data, IoT sensors and ubiquitous middleware that can make sense all that information could be integrated with advanced computer learning or AI. At that point, you have a very smart, even predictive, computer and an extremely versatile visual interface together; the efficiency and transformative power of technology like can really send you down of rabbit hole of ‘what if…’
“Commercial VR applications will eventually outpace gaming, gaming/entertainment will always be a popular industry that grows relative to the overall VR/AR market. At the moment, the one thing limiting commercial application/usage is resolution – writing is difficult to read and you cannot just work on the applications on the desktop inside VR. The adoption of VR will start to increase in commercial when resolutions increase and application vendors really start to take advantage of VR capabilities. This will then progress into AR, where the commercial markets will find even more uses as it does not isolate from the outside world and prevent other interactions. It is at this point the market will shift more to the commercial side when gamification of training and operation becomes a real alternative.”
Gary’s Hardware Recommendations
“Applications that are running are the key to buying the most appropriate system. A gaming machine that run professional applications may be seen as the most cost effective way of approaching VR but this is not the case. Lower frame buffers, systems that are not designed for 24/7 operation, consumer level cards and drivers that constantly update and phone home do not give a good professional experience. A workstation machine that can run VR is a far better option for all the reasons above. Independent Software Vendor certifications are still in place to ensure support of mission critical projects, components are designed to run 24/7 and be available throughout the life of the product. This reduces errors and allows creation of VR data at the highest fidelity possible with the final output being rendered down to the limitations of the destination, consumption platform. Customers should consider that today the workflow is still the same for VR as it ever was. VR is just a new destination or viewing device – the workflow is still 80% the same, it is only how you check and reiterate that has changed until such time as we get full on ‘Minority Report’ interfaces.”
“VR is going to be most exciting around how people interact and communicate with each other. You can see from Facebook’s announcements at F8, such as Facebook Spaces, that they’re really keen on allowing people to use the technology to connect and enhance social experiences. This allows the applications of the technology to go far beyond gaming and tech. I think it will have implications for the workplace and social situations. Within ten years VR and AR will be much more commonplace and people will be far more comfortable using the technology – it will be more seamless. Hopefully that should mean that we rely on and interact with screens far less and have a more natural interface with technologies that we’re using, through sound, touch and voice.”
Gaming VR Too Narrow
“Just thinking about VR in terms of gaming is pretty narrow in terms of its potential. I’m sure that gaming will drive uptake as consoles and games are released, but particularly if you look at mixed reality, there are far broader applications. For example, there are some great examples of how VR is being used in surgery, helping to train people to carry out highly complex tasks where you can’t afford to make a mistake. Facebook is thinking about how to make VR more social, while HoloLens and Magic Leap could well be used in the workplace and to enhance stores, allowing people to try out products seamlessly.”
“Commercial VR has the ability to change all aspects of workflow within enterprises & commercial institutions. From product design, to customer engagement, to training, to marketing & more! I do think VR/MR based training is a truly compelling experience which can span across commercial verticals. 7. Commercial VR/MR/AR will permeate all aspect of our life over the next 10 years: from the way you learn (Education), to the way you buy (Retail), to the way you build your next house (Visualization), to how you interact with your colleagues/friends (Social VR/MR).”
Commercial VR Benefits and Challenges
“There are a couple of trends holding back Commercial VR compared to the consumer space: 1. VR content investments in the consumer market significantly outpaces that in the commercial space 2. Commercial adoption of new technology has a painfully long sales cycle (6-12 months). Moreover, the content ecosystem for the consumer space is consolidated around the mature gaming industry. But on the commercial VR side, the ecosystem will need to mature to support customized solutions for verticals ranging from Education to Automotive markets. In the next 5 years, expect these to gaps (compared to the consumer space) to be closed.”
“Commercial VR can deliver significant value back to the enterprise. VR visualization can help shorten TTM & reduce risk for products, VR can be a very powerful tool for training & safety, VR enables new customer engagement modes and potentially new business models. The challenge today is how can ISV/Solution providers create solutions which can be easily adopted by existing workflows within these end commercial customers. At Intel, we are always looking at way in which VR can adopted – our CES press event was done completely in VR! Today’s VR tech is still 1st gen – its adoption held back by need to set up complex hardware (e.g. lighthouse towers for outside-in tracking) and the need a tether to a PC. Within Intel, we acknowledge these barriers and are actively working to make the next gen of VR significantly easier to adopt within an enterprise.”
“I get most excited by experiences that blend film, immersive theatre and gaming seamlessly. The BBC’s Home – VR Spacewalk is a particular favourite of mine at the moment. I don’t believe true VR will be as mainstream as AR. AR will touch every element of our lives to a greater or lesser degree – retail, medicine, industry, transport – they will all benefit from an augmented layer of interaction.”
“In my business, VR has the potential to reach whole new audiences with opera and ballet performance. So it’s a medium that can be productized for experiences. Coupled with that, we see exciting potential for VR/AR to influence the process of making opera and ballet. Streamlining the production process for example. The big obstacle at the moment is that VR is a solitary experience – we work in the business of collective experiences.”
“I believe that VR Education will be the real “killer app” that will drive further user adoption in both consumer education (schools & universities) and professional education (specific niche markets such as industry, field services, etc.). The added-value of VR training is evident, allowing a faster learning process, fewer human errors and therefore increased productivity. We will start seeing more and more MR (mixed reality) applications in the next 10 years. VR and AR will eventually converge, and smart glasses will complement and take over our digital interactions (on top or instead of our phones). Humans will then feel more connected to the digital world and the internet, allowing for better and more relevant information (in connection to IoT services), and better communication between each other (through holographic and volumetric streaming).”
“Always accurately define the problem and specification requirements for the project, before proposing hardware solutions. One size does not fit all.”
In just a couple of decades, virtual reality has moved beyond science fiction to become a very real part of people’s lives. Experts describe advances setting the stage for VR to go mainstream.
Surrounded by clear blue water, a diver examines the bow of a sunken ship. A stingray gracefully glides from the depths of the ocean floor, practically grazing the diver’s face. An 80-foot blue whale emerges from the depths and the diver’s heart races as she stares into the brown pool of his curious eyeball. She can’t help but reach out to touch its dorsal fin.
But instead of feeling the whale’s long, thin flippers, her hand is met by the familiar feeling of her office cubicle. This diving trip didn’t require a SCUBA license or even a wetsuit. Instead, it relied on a virtual reality (VR) headset, a PC and a $9.99 purchase of theBlu software.
The whale experience is just one example of how VR technology can transport anyone from the real world to an entirely virtual one.
“VR conjures up a set of images and other properties that drive your senses to forget where you really are,” said Kim Pallister, Director of Intel’s Virtual Reality Center of Excellence.
“You really start to believe you are someplace else.”
Heading up the VR project lab in Hillsboro, Ore., Pallister and his team are working to bring VR to the masses. He believes advances in hardware and compute power enabling high-quality VR experiences are enough to finally give VR its breakthrough moment. That breakthrough is opening new possibilities for fusing VR and AR into merged reality experiences that bring the real world into digital experiences in real-time (read How Computer Vision is Transforming VR into Merged Reality).
VR, Then and Now
Today’s VR headsets or Head Mounted Displays (HMD’s) are more affordable and offer higher quality graphics than ever before. Pallister recalls the first time experts attempted to push the new technology throughout the 90’s.
At that time, the cost was too high and the graphics were too poor to entice the general public to adopt the technology. Today, Pallister said, those challenges are eroding with the advent of higher powered processors and smaller, more affordable visual displays.
“Mike Abrash, the lead scientist at Oculus, said ’affordable, high-quality, VR is the peace dividend of the smartphone war,’” recalled Pallister. He said this explains how consumer demand for high quality, smaller phones inspired improvements in quality of display and sensor technology, while driving prices down. Those same components are now being applied to VR.
The last twenty years have seen dramatic advances in both the hardware and software required for a truly immersive VR experience. Some of the earliest computer games used simple text boxes to create imagined spaces and environments in the minds of the player. The player would type in ‘Lights on’ and the gaming program would respond indicating that the lights had indeed been turned on.
This type of interaction between computer and human formed the underpinnings of today’s interactive experiences. Instead of simple text, 3D gaming graphics of today are hyper realistic and game play allows players more freedom and agency than ever before.
Not Ready for Prime Time Yet?
Despite Pallister’s optimism, challenges still exist preventing VR from becoming commonplace.
Companies like Google and Samsung have developed lower cost, mobile VR experiences that convert a cell phone display into a VR viewer. Google cardboard, for example costs less than $20, and Samsung’s Gear VR mobile headset comes it at under $100.
While this break in price point eases the burden on consumers, some argue that the lower quality experience offered with mobile VR is still preventing mass adoption. The most immersive experience still requires a significant investment for a high-quality headset and a computer that can handle the additional compute requirements.
Cost isn’t the only challenge. VR headsets can be clunky, cumbersome and require a tether to the PC. Even tech enthusiasts are resistant to wearing these devices for hours at a time due to physical discomfort. Some experiences also require handsets and controls that require substantial time and expertise to set up.
Mass adoption of VR also requires a psychological evolution. In the same way the internet was initially met with fear and resistance, some psychologists fear VR poses a threat to the mental health of users.
“Reality is fragile and complex,” said Sherry Turkle, professor at MIT and the founder and director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, in a recent New York Times article.
“It demands a lot and we are fatigued. Addressing real problems begins by seeing them clearly,” she said. “If we are not vigilant, seeing the world through a lens – albeit not darkly – can be a first step toward accepting a dreamscape as sufficient unto the day.”
Although some are fearful of the mental impact of VR experiences, Pallister said VR is already benefiting industries like education, retail, architecture and healthcare.
In classrooms across the U.S., students are taking virtual field trips with the help of Google Cardboard. Instead of reading about the pyramids in Egypt, for example, students are transported to a 3D, life-size rendering, where they can actually explore the amazing structures.
VR helps developers create environments that don’t yet exist, allowing builders and architects experience a planned space, get a sense of scale and make changes before committing to the final version.
Ikea took this concept and created a consumer shopping experience, allowing customers to create virtual kitchens and other living spaces designed with 3D, virtual Ikea products. Shoppers can determine if their chosen Ikea furniture is the right size, color and style and then make a better purchase decision based upon this information.
The healthcare industry has also benefited from virtual reality technology. Doctors can train using 3D modeling and simulated surgeries. These types of medical VR applications can reduce the costs and risks associated with intricate medical procedures.
Pallister and his team are working to improve the overall VR experience and bring down the cost to consumers. The team is working on a high-quality wireless headset, experimenting with existing technologies like the lightweight Depoon. It operates on WiFi, which limits the graphics quality. By using a faster wireless technology like WiGig, which nearly doubles WiFi’s top speeds, Pallister hopes to allow for the highest quality graphics over a wireless device.
Another approach to helping VR make it into the hands of the average consumer is minimizing the required compute power to enable the best VR experiences possible. Pallister’s team is looking into off-loading some of the required processor power to the visual display unit within the HMD. This would then allow consumers to buy a super powered headset that could run immersive VR experiences on less expensive PCs.
“We have a ton of Intel technologies either existing today or in development, that will improve the whole VR experience over time,” said Pallister. For example, sensing capabilities available through Intel’s RealSense technology opens up worlds of new possibilities.
“VR is not a thing that we all get excited about this year and then it’s done. VR in five years is going to make today’s look horrible, and in 10 years it’s going to be even better.”